DO WE NEED TOTAL RECALL AS A LEARNING TOOL?

Someone recently asked me to explain what the Cahn Ingold Prelog rules were!!! I could not! I have a vague recollection of it, as I should, based on my training and experiences many years ago. I knew it had to do with organic chemistry and that it dealt with nomenclature, especially that related to stereoisomers…….but the detail……nada!

This got me thinking, something which I occasionally do. What do I actually know? What do I think I know? What is that I know I know? What is that I know I don’t know and, taraaaa, what is it that I don’t know that I don’t know? Go here to see why this may sound familiar!

Or, to put it differently, my whole being and my reactions to my environment are based on a set of vague learnings (except for the most recent one) and which are my survival tools. This includes my operating in the academic environment. I react to all academic/ industrial stimuli based on these now vague learnings. And I generally survive!!!!!

What do I mean by vague learnings you ask? As an older person, I have formally and informally learnt from experiences and programmes and have stored such leanings (facts, factoids, etc.) as engrams in my one small skull…..or one small head as Matthew Arnold would have it! However, due to my soft hard drive not being defragmented for 61 years now, retrieving data is a bit of a problem. My capability to focus on all the detail is limited by the aberrant lens of time. Yet I survive!

How does this happen? My own explanation in quiet conversation with myself indicates that I have the ability to pull vague strands of data together to synthesize responses to my environment. All of this data, it must be remembered, was generated by my life’s learning process. And to all intents and purposes, I have been reasonably successful in surviving! Unless, of course, I survived by virtue of the Peter Principle!

I would suggest that most of this learning process and storing of this as engrams for use as I have just described had very little to do with rote learning i.e. committing large numbers of facts to memory, otherwise known as “parrot fashion” – what an insult to parrots though! And to get to my point: how much “parrot” do we need in our learners of today? Do we not influence them to think that “parrot” is the way to go? My last statement is made based on my assumption there is still a cohort of educators who either encourage or lean toward the sole use of memorization of facts by learners. This is notwithstanding the issue of problem-solving and analytical thinking being the order of the day in modern curricula.

And this is not even taking into account the nature of the (larger?) percentage of learners being more technology-savvy and who devour large amounts of media, be it social, political or technical. I also state this based on the fact that blended learning, the flipped classroom and life-long learning is the lexicon of education today. Knowing where to find information is becoming more important than having all the information in your cranium.

A final word with regard to the learning process. This relates to the rate of increase of total knowledge and also the need for the growth of the ability to handle the knowledge explosion. I think back to my first year at university. That was the first time I was introduced to Calculus. From what I now understand, keeping mind that my offspring have long left high school, this is now in the secondary phase of the teaching programme. What say we start ‘em off at Grade R on differentiation?

We need to change. I think I am proof of that. I am sure it will work much better than the pessimist would expect. I believe that, even though I have forgotten millions of facts or bodies of text, I have had a good education. I also believe that my education need not be limited to what a talking head says, but rather what a facilitator can do.

Larry Dolley

p.s. The sentiments expressed do not relate to any particular university or department. Furthermore, acknowledgement is made of the fact that certain parts of the incoming learning cohort do sit with a distinct challenge in terms of poor foundational learning and challenges  with the language of teaching/ learning and that this does not easily fit into my thesis above.